The time is approaching, and the vermouth revolution is on the brink of worldwide domination.
Many still picture vermouth as an epitome of that dust-gathering liquor at the back of their grandparent’s cupboard (right next to the Advocaat and Maraschino Liqueur) which rarely sees the sunlight. But just like the old proverb says, “Everything comes back into fashion if you wait long enough!”.
Vermouth has always been present in the background, awaiting the rare moment a Negroni or Martini is required to be brushed down and used, a bit like the jars of Chinese five-spice lost in the spice rack.
However, this is all about to change, as vermouth is having something of a well-deserved renaissance moment, bringing a new lease of life to the old-age beverage.
Chatter amongst the London bar scene is hinting that vermouth is about to play an important role in the quest for a new trend to topple the Gin & Tonic, as the rumours of ‘peak gin’ become ever-increasingly apparent. To me this seems quite fitting; after all, the original Martini cocktail was 50/50 gin to vermouth, not the much stronger version we recognise today.
For those that are unaware, vermouth is an aromatised wine that has been sweetened using a combination of herbs, barks, roots and spices to create an endless variety of aromatic flavours.
It is this botanical infusion that gives vermouth all of craft gin’s advantages, whilst remaining less widely known, understood and appreciated. This is likely to change in the next couple of years as early-adopters and trend-hunters seek to move on from the ever-encroaching end of the glorified gin boom.
Gin’s bitter taste can be divisive and is one reason why it has struggled to conquer the US. But vermouth has the ability to please a broader range of palates than gin, as there is a spectrum of sweeter to drier varieties. Although it’s well-known for its use in cocktails, to really enjoy the vermouth’s complexity and aromatic layers of taste, a true ‘Vermouth Connoisseur’ drinks it neat, with a sliver of orange or lemon peel and perhaps a dash of bitters or an olive.
Historically, vermouth is one of the world’s oldest beverages and dates back to the Greeks, who infused their white wines, as well as the Chinese of the Shang Dynasty who used the fortified wine for medical purposes. However, it was first served in its modern guise as an apéritif in the cafés of Turin, Italy, towards the end of the 18th century.
The Case of Barcelona:
A key city that once helped drive the Gin boom, Barcelona, is also now at the heart of this new revolution, moving this beverage from the back of the shelf to the forefront of fashion. ‘Vermut’ is consumed on a daily basis with more and more ‘Vermuterías’ (vermouth bars) popping up every month in all of the trendy areas of the Catalan capital.
In Barcelona, vermouth is not merely a drink for locals, it is a daily apéritif ritual that takes place at the end of a morning, or just possibly at the start of an evening. This is the place that the revolution was born. The new generation didn’t want to drink what their parents drank, they wanted to drink what their grandparents did.
Even up until a few years ago vermouth was mainly favoured by OAPs drinking glass after glass served straight from the barrel in the city’s remaining small, dimly lit taverns.
Today, ‘Vermut’ is appearing in some unlikely places. At Sónar, the world-renowned electronic music festival held in Barcelona every June, a vermouth stall had queues longer than any of the other bars. And at a new wave of daytime fiestas in public spaces, the youth of Barcelona have taken to sipping the drink as an alternative to beer and spirits.
The London Revolution:
Chatter amongst the London bar scene is also hinting that vermouth is on the cusp of a comeback, mainly driven by the bartenders and so-called ‘mixologists’ dispersed among the capital.
They are now starting to take a strong interest in vermouth due to its layers of flavour, centuries of tradition, unique production methodology and secret formulas; so it’s hardly surprising that the revolution is expected to spread through London like wildfire.}
According to the latest CGA and DrinkUpLondon’s Report, vermouth is among the most fashionable drinks in London’s top high-end bars, with almost a fifth (21%) of bar managers in this segment agreeing that it will be a ‘big trend’ over the course of the next few years.
If that isn’t enough to convince you, it’s undeniable that something game-changing is going down when the big players start getting involved, such as Diageo’s acquisition of German brand Belsazar last year.
The restaurant scene is already beginning to demystify the subconscious stigma attached to vermouth. Take Michelin-starred ‘Sabor’ for example, from Barrafina’s Nieves Barragán and José Etura — probably the most anticipated Spanish joint ever to open in London, where the vermouth selection is always growing and even on tap – just like a traditional Vermutería. Sitting on a high stool at the mosaic tiled bar, you can sample a glass of fragrant Lustau Blanco from Jerez on the rocks with a slice of lemon and a green olive, whilst nibbling on some jamón ibérico or sizzling Galician octopus tentacles.
Soho restaurant Mele e Pere is in many ways the holy grail of London’s vermouth bars and has been ahead of the curve for years. Not only does it have an extensive menu of over 40 different vermouths to sample, but it also makes its own, as well hosting monthly masterclasses for aspiring vermouthiers.
Neil Rankin’s lively new Temper restaurant in Convent Garden boasts nearly 30 vermouths: biancos from Italy, Greek vermouths infused with local herbs and honey, and a unique range of vermouths from Australia, spiked with olive leaves, desert limes and peachy quandong fruits.
The market for vermouth is changing too. Martini, the world’s biggest vermouth brand, has recently experienced a decline in sales. Instead, it is smaller craft vermouth brands who are driving vermouth sales and status.
There are even some UK producers quick to jump on the trend before it takes off. ‘Sacred Spice English Vermouth’ is a bittersweet Red vermouth made in North London with a wine from Three Choirs Vineyards in Gloucestershire. This Elizabethan herb garden-inspired vermouth is flavoured with over 26 botanicals found in the local surrounding countryside, including English wormwood, thyme and plum stones.
Whereas ‘Discarded’, a Scottish sweet vermouth producer takes a sustainable approach ahead of the revolution through the use of Cascara, the part of coffee fruit that usually goes to waste. The result is a dark, silky vermouth with rich notes of cherry and dark chocolate.
Now hopefully, through this knowledge-enrichening post, you may start to see this sorely misunderstood drink in a new light. You may even decide to sample some of the stuff in the near future. And you may, just may, become part of the vermouth revolution.